Imagine if “Donnie Brasco” and “Narcos” had a baby. Now imagine that the baby grew up to be the dull kid who thought he was smarter than everyone else. That baby is “The Infiltrator,” a new drug movie starring Bryan Cranston.
Set in 1985 South Florida, the War on Drugs is in full swing. Colombian drug kingpin Pablo Escobar is flooding the streets with $400 million of cocaine per week while remaining out of reach to law enforcement. Enter Robert Mazur (Cranston), an accountant-turned-federal-undercover-drug-agent. He’s wounded and eligible for retirement with a full pension, but takes in one last job that turns out to be the biggest and most dangerous of his career. Working with fellow narcs Kathy Ertz (Diane Kruger) and Emir Abreu (John Leguizamo), he goes deep as Bob Musella, money launderer to the cartels. Dodging bullets and unwanted sexual advances, Musella gains the trust of the Medellín Cartel but must balance his friendship with drug lord Roberto Alcaino (Benjamin Bratt) with the responsibilities of his job.
Part of all of us wants Bryan Cranston back in the drug trade. Years of “Breaking Bad” primed us for his brand of Heisenbergian ruthlessness and in the wake of the show’s conclusion, left us wanting more. Too bad that his return to the underworld is such a milquetoast affair. What could have been an engaging look into the inner workings of a business so huge they had to spend a thousand bucks a week on rubber bands to hold stacks of bills together, is instead a mishmash of clichés, tough-talk and 80s-style excess. Not content to let the story do the talking director Brad Furman errs on the side of the obvious throughout. For instance, instead of letting the implied threat of Cartel violence stand on its own, characters remind us that if things go wrong there will be grave consequences for everyone involved.
Better is the portrayal of Mazur’s complicated relationship with Alcaino and his wife. The agent and Escobar’s suave-but-deadly US representative become friends of a sort and when the sting goes down there are poignant moments that add some real drama to a film that desperately needs them.
“The Infiltrator” is held together by Cranston whose fine work is the most compelling thing in the movie. Leguizamo has the more interesting character in the street wise Abreu but isn’t given enough to do. Ditto Amy Smart as Mazur’s commanding officer. She does what she can but the character still seems to have walked straight of Central Casting Handbook and on to the screen.